That crackling sound radiating within your eardrums isn’t the ice melting beneath your feet or from your windows and roofs, it’s the collective sound of New York Jets fans’ dreams shattering.
The Jets remarkably avoided becoming just the third team in NFL history to go 0-16, defeating the heavily-favored Rams 23-20 on Sunday evening in Los Angeles. As 17.5-point underdogs, this was the Jets’ second-largest upset in franchise history, just a half-point behind their line against the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III.
For the players and coaching staff, the win provides a gargantuan sigh of relief knowing that they won’t be the next group to join the NFL’s motley crew of winless teams in a 16-game season.
For the fans, the dream of drafting Clemson superstar quarterback Trevor Lawrence — the golden boy with a matching arm that was going to make this entire miserable, heinous season all worth it — for now, seems lost.
With the win, the Jets were jumped by the 1-13 Jacksonville Jaguars as the worst team in the league based on strength of schedule, putting the Florida franchise in the driver’s seat for the No. 1 pick.
Obviously, there is time for the football fates to sway back in the Jets’ favor. They are rightful underdogs in their final two games against the 10-4 Cleveland Browns and the freshly-eliminated New England Patriots.
Should they lose their last two and the Jaguars upset either the Chicago Bears or Indianapolis Colts — which is highly unlikely — the Jets get the No. 1 pick and can reset their sights on Lawrence. Should both teams lose out, though, the Jaguars keep that top selection.
Then what for the Jets?
As it stands, they have the No. 2 pick in the draft and with it, a clear path to Ohio State passer, Justin Fields. He’s the undisputed second-best quarterback in the league, but he is nowhere near the same level of prepared for the pros as Lawrence is. That means the Jets will be faced with another quarterback project that they’ve gotten wrong time and time again.
Just look at the last decade alone with Mark Sanchez, Geno Smith, and now Sam Darnold.
Of course, it’s worth noting that Darnold’s career as the Jets’ franchise quarterback isn’t necessarily over. But as a product of institutional negligence by a dysfunctional franchise, it certainly seems like the Jets could be looking for alternative options under center.
While he’s regressed in his third NFL season under the malpractice of head coach Adam Gase, Darnold had an efficient showing on Sunday against a Rams defense that was the top unit in football entering Week 15. He completed 22-of-31 passes for 207 yards with one touchdown, and more importantly, no turnovers.
The final two weeks of the season should be treated like a tryout by Darnold as he very well could be performing for his future as the organization’s franchise QB. If he impresses against Cleveland — who just held the Giants to six points on Sunday night — and New England, there’s hope for him yet under a new head coach and proper support system.
That would provide the Jets with an easier decision to either use that No. 2 pick to address another key position of need or to trade it and get a bevy of draft capital and assets to further supplement a legitimate rebuild.
Of course, that option could very well be on the table even if GM Joe Douglas believes Darnold isn’t the man for the Jets, anyway. Gang Green could always turn to the market for an established veteran. A name that immediately comes to mind is Philadelphia Eagles star Carson Wentz, who could be demanding a trade if his team continues to ride with Jalen Hurts as the starter.